Another Russian cyber strike on the homeland has demonstrated the wishful thinking of the Biden Administration policy which aims to "reset" Russian President Vladimir Putin’s brain into a "friendly" one.
U.S. President Joe Biden and his coterie of "experts"––who just finished a summit in Geneva where they sought to "stabilize" relations with Russia and asked Putin to limit his cyberattacking habit––are merely projecting weakness to a Russian president who is not seeking stability and views cyberattacks as an invaluable tool.
Late Friday evening, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency sent out an advisory that it was "taking action to understand and address" another on-going ransomware cyberattack. Cybersecurity experts involved in the investigation characterized the attack as "colossal."
The hack since has been attributed to the same "Russia-linked" criminals who struck our meat supply a month earlier, extorting 11 million dollars from the supplier. This time the target list is thousands of companies. The Russians achieved a "force multiplier effect" by striking what’s called a supply chain vendor, Kaseya VSA, and multiple managed services that employ VSA software. Thousands of targets were affected, many of which were small and medium-size businesses.
Biden’s silly gesture to hand to Putin a list of 16 "do not attack" critical infrastructure targets during the summit in June failed to discourage Russia from continuing its cyber offensive. What’s more, it validated what the Russian planners knew all along by studying our responses for two decades. Putin is convinced that Russia’s "low-grade" cyber warfare aimed at destabilizing America will not provoke Washington to respond militarily. Russia’s asymmetric doctrine envisions fighting the fight below the threshold of a kinetic confrontation.
By allowing another devastating cyberattack on the U.S., just some weeks after President Biden begged Putin to halt cyber strikes on America, Putin demonstrated his lack of respect for Biden. The Kremlin viewed the summit as theater, a propaganda opportunity for Russia that permitted Putin a chance to humiliate Washington while portraying Russia as a superpower "equal" to America.
After the summit, Putin’s "analysts" mocked Biden’s team in the Russian press by writing that the "Americans are more afraid of a cyber war than a nuclear war." They characterized U.S.-Russia relations as those of "strategic instability," rebuffing the Biden Administration’s "strategic stability" agenda for the summit. Russian specialists in U.S.-Russian relations forecast "no change" between Washington and Moscow’s posture.
Along with sheer disrespect, there’s something even more disturbing that probably drives Putin’s decision calculus to ratchet up his cyber offensive: Moscow views Biden as weak and unlikely to fight back. For months before the summit, the Russian media, most of which is state-controlled, was speculating about the deterioration of Biden’s mental health. They cited the perceived troubles by the U.S. president to "annunciate words," the "struggles to deliver even short speeches," once confusing former president Trump with Putin, and mispronouncing the Russian president’s name as "Klutin."
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There is nothing on a Russian "news" site that the Kremlin would not want there.
The Russians place a premium on mental acuity for presidents. This is because Moscow, which possesses the world’s largest nuclear arsenal and a complex nuclear employment, is prepared to fight a limited nuclear war if faced in an armed conflict with a conventionally superior power, such as the United States. Unlike his bushy eye-browed Soviet counterpart Leonid Brezhnev, who trembled when faced with a task of pressing the "button" in a nuclear training exercise, Putin routinely presides over nuclear drills conducted by the Russian armed forces.
Putin, who thoroughly cultivates his image of mental and physical toughness, probably sees the U.S. president as inferior. Biden’s soft and incoherent policy towards Russia likely validates Putin’s conclusion.
Despite its harsh rhetoric towards Putin and Russia, the Biden administration canceled economic sanctions on Nordstream 2 and continues to attribute the devastating cyberattacks on American businesses, including our food and gas supplies, to Russia–based hackers, rather than calling out Putin as ultimately responsible. Use of criminal groups to achieve the state’s objectives is a standard operating procedure when it comes to Russia’s approach to cyber warfare.
Biden is not getting any younger, but he can wage a tougher policy against Putin. He has said that if he can attribute the latest cyberattack to Russia, he will respond forcefully. He should. But sadly, we may never see it.